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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 8 (January 15, 1927)

Production Engineering — Part VIII. — Getting Together

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Production Engineering
Part VIII.

Getting Together

There is no more vital point, in the matter of advancing the mutual interests of both the Employees and the Management of the Department, than that of the attitude of one to the other, and the means provided for getting together so that matters of common interest may be intelligently discussed and properly understood.

There never was anything new to any particular shop or place that was not objected to by some. Almost always these objections, unless they are of the “on principle” kind, can be cleared away when the objection is properly understood, and when there is an attitude of confidence between the parties concerned.

At the present time two subjects, “Shops Committees” and “Payment by Results,” are causing considerable discussion, and I feel there is a need to show that what the Department is endeavouring to do is not experimental, but actually sound business practice, and that it is so accepted by Labour. In order to prove this last statement I am going to extract from the September issue of “Printers Ink,” an authorised interview granted to Chester M. Wright by William Green, the President of the American Federation of Labour.

William Green is the man who succeeded Samuel Gompers. He has risen to the Presidency of this huge Labour organisation (which includes all railways in America) through all the intermediate steps, and his views on management, his frank avowal of intention to co-operate with progressive management, and his recognition of joint responsibility for profits on which wages and dividends depend should show the man who thinks for himself that there is soundness behind our actions.

It must be conceded that the right idea is to copy the methods of successful people or successful countries if we are to be successful ourselves. William Green represents the highest paid workers in the world and probably the most successful trades union in the world. I ask you to read the following slowly and to “get” it all—because It applies to us:—“With us,” said the President of the American Federation of Labour, “the existing order is accepted.”

“That the first big point in my mind is that we accept the existing order,” he went on, “and that, this being so, employees and employers must go on working together. All of us may as well make up our minds that we have to go on working together. It is a fact. We must accept it and if we accept it and understand that there is no use thinking of the situation in any other way, we shall begin to get on better.

“My second thought inevitably is that American industry cannot be successful if there is any notion of exploitation in the hearts or minds of either wage earners or employers. If either of these feels that there is exploitation at the hands of the other, industry will certainly pay the penalty. I mean that there must be no sense of injustice by either at the hands of the other.

“Employers must feel that they are dealt with fairly, that their fundamental rights are recognised, that they are not made the victims of unfair practices. Employees must feel that their rights are recognised honestly and honourably, that their treatment in wages and working conditions is fair and that they are not in any way hoodwinked or brow-beaten.

“Third, employees and employers and all of us must see that wages and profits both come out of that industry and that they cannot come from any other source. And neither can get out what is not put in.

Here, Mr. Chester Wright put a frank, blunt question. “There are many men” he said, “who will say that this sounds well, but is this merely doctrine, or is it a policy that is getting into practice; and what is being done to spread the practice.”

“The workers are beginning to see the situation in a new light,” Mr. Green replied. “We are not deluding ourselves into the belief that it is generally accepted. There must be education on both sides. But that is the direction and more and more the footsteps are being turned that way, because it is the right way. The right way always winds out because nowrong way can long stand up against it.

“There is the Baltimore and Ohio Railway Plan, as it is called, now spreading to the Canadian Lines, to the Milwaukee Railroad, to the Virginian Railroad. There is the well-known example of the garment industry in Cleveland. And I know from reports and letters and personal talks that this same thing, this business of getting together on a more intimate co-operating, co-working basis, is going on in all manner of shops, all manner of concerns, all manner of plants of which we hear nothing in public discussion. The spread of wisdom and of wise and profitable practices is quietly going on, the frontiers of good sense and good relations—enlightenment—are being pushed farther along each day, even though it is quiet progress.

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“It has spread farther than we know, this understanding in industry. And now what is it that both sides must recognise first of all? First, we must recognise that the employer has a right to run his plant. He has a right to make a profit in his plant. He has a right to associate with others. He has the rights that go with the institution of private property. We must all understand those rights, respect them and if necessary help protect them. Employers must recognise that the workers have the right to organise and to bargain collectively. They have a right to try to improve their condition. They have a right to an effective voice in determining the conditions under which they shall work.

“If both sides can come to an understanding of the rights of each, then all are in a position to proceed in a friendly spirit, in honesty and understanding to the development of practices and methods that will result in the largest possible production and the largest possible return to all.

“We hear more or less about wasteful practices on the part of labour, about duplication of effort, about ‘putting it over’ the employer. Frankly, we all know that there have been and there are such practices. But these are not things that must always be. They are not a necessary part of industrial life and they can be eliminated. There are even greater wastes and greater evidences of wrong on the part of management. These, too, can be overcome and eliminated.

Engines ready for day's work in Auckland yard.

Engines ready for day's work in Auckland yard.

“Let me speak very frankly about this phase of industry. There are wasteful practices. All workers and all organisations of workers are not yet in a state of perfection. There are practices and rules that it is perhaps even difficult to defend from the standpoint of theory alone. But generally these things come out of the past and in the past there were what seemed good and sufficient reasons for them. And perhaps in some cases they were even the result of that perfectly natural and normal desire to get as much as possible for as little as possible. That is not a trait peculiar to workmen only. Please bear that in mind.

“But I can say that Labour will join in every effort to abolish those things where they exist, will join in every effort to increase productivity per unit, whenever it can do so without having to pay the price of that increased efficiency out of its own well-being. Isn't it right that when by joint effort there is a gain, there should be a fair sharing of that gain?

“It will mean a great deal when the employer comes to the workers and says: ‘Can you help me to do something for you and me?” That will be very much different from saying: ‘Help me to do something for me.”'

There is no need for me to comment on this interview. Big ideas come from big men. Cooperation is not talk alone. The point is, “Are we big enough to copy the methods of successful men?” Whether they are business men or Labour leaders is all the same—Is there a single sound reason why we shouldn't?